The Alpha at Omega

Nicole Senecal has found, in real estate, an element of social work she can enjoy

by Holly Hungerford

photo Nicole L. Senecal, the owner/broker of Omega Real Estate Associates Inc. in Williston, is following in the footsteps of her entrepreneurial family.

At 26, Nicole Senecal may be young in years, but the broker/owner of Omega Real Estate Associates has many years of real estate behind her and a great passion for her work. The daughter of Al and Cheryl Senecal, local real estate developers and business owners, she has lived in Vermont since middle school and watched her parents develop properties and their various businesses.

She graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island in 2005 with a degree in social work. “I liked learning about it almost more than I liked the practice of it,” she says. “It was very difficult for me to be in an internship with children and not take them home with me.” In real estate, she found an element of social work, but one that didn’t involve such emotions.

Six months after graduation, Senecal had earned her real estate license and been hired as an independent agent by Prudential Realty Mart. To learn the behind-the-scenes work of development and the business aspect of real estate, she moved to Gardner & Gardner Realtors in mid 2006. By December 2007, she had earned her broker’s license. “From the beginning, my ultimate goal was to start my own business,” she says.

Covering Chittenden and Grand Isle counties, most of Franklin County, and northern Addison County, Omega Real Estate Associates offers residential and commercial listing services. Although there are more commercial listings than residential, Senecal says the amount of work done for each is about equal.

“With residential, there’s a lot more involved so it takes more time. There’s an emotional element, too, and a lot more questions. Whereas most businesspeople know what they’re doing — they know the routine — first-time homebuyers don’t know that routine,” she explains. Unlike the residential side of the business, most of the commercial business is about leasing space, not purchasing property.

Senecal opened Omega Real Estate Associates in March 2008. Her small office was in the basement of a building next door to the company’s current location on Cornerstone Drive in Williston, where she moved in May 2008.

The business is affiliated with Allen Brook Development Inc., LNP Inc., and A&C Realty, owned by Senecal’s parents, who are also the owners of Omega Electric — the inspiration for the name she chose for her business — and Family Fun & Entertainment, mini golf driving range and batting cages in Essex and Williston. Her parents are Senecal’s financial partners, as well, in Omega Real Estate, “but,” she hastens to add with a laugh, “they leave all the work to me.”

This affiliation allows Omega to offer additional services to its commercial clients, including fit-ups and property maintenance, because a call to her dad is all that’s needed to arrange the interior work wanted by a client. “We all work in community, and we have close contact with each other to ensure that the lease coincides with the fit-up and that everything is done as we had agreed upon in the lease,” says Senecal.

“It’s fun to work with my parents,” she says. “They’re great people. We try to make sure we keep business business and family family. They are two very separate things, and they need to be treated as such.”

Senecal is the middle of three siblings. Her younger brother, Peter, works in the property management division of their parents’ companies. Her older sister, Lisa, is not part of the business. She just returned from a year in Turkey teaching English as a second language in Istanbul.

Senecal employs two other agents: Ryan Bunce joined the firm in November 2008 and handles only commercial listings; and John Sortor, a buyer’s agent, has been with Omega since July of this year.

photo According to Senecal, residential real estate has seen an amazing increase since January. John Sortor, buyer specialist, has been with Omega since July.

Choosing the right people to work in her brokerage is important, says Senecal. “Your job becomes so much easier when you’re having fun, and it shows through. If we can add an element of enjoyment while at the same time working hard, I think that’s where we’ll draw people in to do business with us. The dynamic of working together and having fun — who doesn’t want to be a part of that?”

Hannah Wood, who, with her husband, David, owns Talent Skate Park in South Burlington, worked with Senecal a year ago to find a new location for their business. “She’s wonderful,” says Wood. “She has such a spark. Her laugh is contagious; she’s really organized and was very patient with us. I always have a million and a half questions, and she was right there, available and responsive, and went over and above to answer any questions.” In the end, the Woods didn’t relocate their business, but, laughing, Wood confides that she almost rented a space just so they could continue working with Senecal.

Opening a real estate business in the middle of an economic downturn could be seen as risky. Senecal thought that if she could make it through this economy, she could make it through any economy. Last winter was the toughest, she says.

“We saw some of the worst statistics in terms of properties on the market and properties selling. Even though I was busy and I was working, I wasn’t closing deals. I was seeing deals falling apart left and right.”

photo Although residential sales were more heavily impacted during the recent downturn, commercial leasing also became more difficult. Ryan Bunce, commercial leasing project manager, joined the firm in November 2008.

While residential sales were more heavily impacted, commercial leasing also became difficult. “There were tons of inquiries, but a lot of inquiries were dead-end ones that didn’t wind up with a lease,” she recalls. Senecal notes that the majority of inquiries were actually due to downsizing.

Since last winter, Senecal says, she has felt an improvement in the market, although commercial statistics are hard to come by. “The business has felt an upswing with commercial,” she says. “We’ve been signing leases, filling spaces. On the residential side, we’ve seen an amazing increase since January.

“Statistically, according to data from the Multiple Listing Service, in January there was a 22.9-month supply of real estate when you compare the inventory to the number of sales happening. Now, in September, there’s a seven-month supply. We’re seeing less inventory and more sales. To me that’s exciting,” she says, adding that those figures do not include possible poor sales by owners or other transactions taking place out of the MLS.

Senecal’s passion for her job spills into her private life. Until recently, she was a member of the Williston Planning Commission, the policy-writing branch of town planning. “I loved working with them, and I learned so much. I can’t describe how much of an advantage it gave me in both the commercial and residential worlds, knowing the regulations,” she says. With her business increasing, she found she didn’t have enough time, so she resigned from the commission. She says she hopes to return in the future.

Away from real estate, Senecal is an avid soccer player, playing throughout the year in various leagues. She’s also a runner — she completed a half marathon in May 2008 — but these days she does more sprinting than long-distance running. To de-stress and unwind, Senecal turns to Bikram yoga, going to class from three to six times a week.

“I love to work out and exercise. It helps me keep that balance in my life that lets me feel great about coming to work and great about going home.” •